Platinum/ Palladium – My Printing Process
There is nothing quite like the glow of a genuine platinum print: it is simultaneously gentle and powerful, it is subtle yet rich and luxurious, and it has a physical presence like no other print medium.
Getting started with Platinum/Palladium (Pt/Pd) printing is easy – buy a kit, slap some chemicals on a sheet of paper, find a dense negative, apply a bit of UV, develop the print, and you’re done! But learning to consistently make top quality prints is much harder. For a start there are several different “recipes” to choose from, very little truly authoritative information published, lots pet theories, and plenty of misinformation too.
Printing with platinum is a common theme for questions on APUG, so I thought it would be a good idea to try to explain how I do it. Hopefully this article will act as a starting point for other printers to explain their processes so we can build an authoritative body of knowledge. Of course, if anyone sees mistakes in my method then I’ll happily test changes and update this article accordingly.
Finally, I have to thank Jorge Gasteazoro for all his patience, help and advice as I learned this process and Ray Bidegain for inspiring me with his beautiful prints.
My Philosophy of Printing
I’m a strong proponent of keeping things simple and learning to feel the process through your finger tips. I don’t use test strips, densitometers, BTZS or other things because every time I’ve tried these I’ve ended up bogged down in technical details and creatively blocked. Instead I seek to understand what’s going on through experimentation and by studying each individual print to decide how to improve it. I’ve learned far more by studying the prints I’ve made and talking to experts than I ever did by reading books and examining step wedges.
What this means is that I’m going to try to minimise the “tech-talk” in this article. Instead I'm going to assume that you’re happy to take what I say as a starting point, to do your own experiments, and to develop your own printing skills and style.
In my opinion, the most important thing to understand if you want to try Pt/Pd printing is that you’re not using factory made silver gelatine papers. You won’t get black dark tones – you will get variations in contrast and tone – you won’t get faultless coatings every time – you will get occasional aberrations. So don’t try to compare your Pt/Pd prints with your silver ones – they are very different things. If you can understand this, accept it, and embrace it then you’ll find yourself liberated to enjoy the wonderful world of handmade prints. But if you can’t move away from the silver gelatine paradigm then you’ll just get frustrated (and poorer).
A Word About Safety
Some of the chemicals I’m going to talk about are dangerous. You should always read the data sheets before buying chemicals so that you’re aware of the necessary safety precautions. If you choose not to do this, or choose not to follow the safety precautions then you may end up poisoning yourself or someone close to you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
The Four Fundamental Pt/Pd Methods
There are four fundamental Pt/Pd methods:
- The Bostick and Sullivan “A+B” method, also covered in great detail in Dick Arentz’s book Platinum and Palladium Printing. If you’ve never done Pt/Pd printing before then start here. Many printers find that they never need to move to more complex processes
- The NA2 method. This is a popular variant that addresses some of the problems with the A+B method by using NA2 in the paper coating rather than Ferric Oxalate Solution B. It’s not one I use so I’m not going to cover it in this article. Hopefully someone who is an expert in it will do this at a later date
- The Dichromate method. This is the method I use. It is very flexible and very high quality, but it relies on Dichromates which are very nasty chemicals. Many people avoid it for that reason
- The “Mike Ware” method. This is a fundamentally different process developed by Mike Ware. Again, it’s not one that I’ve used so I’m not going to talk about it. If you’re interested in using it then go to Mike’s web site for more info
You’ll need dense negatives to make good Pt/Pd prints. “How dense?” is a common question. If you’re into film testing, etcetera, then buy Arentz and do all the tests. If you’re not then do what I did and take the published N+1 development times as a starting point and adjust to taste. Just for the record, I use HP5+ rated at ISO 800 and developed in Rodinal 1+22 (45cc Rodinal made up to 1000cc with distilled water) for 13 minutes in a Jobo Expert drum at about 22°C. When tray developing I go for 16 minutes.
If you’re new to Pt/Pd printing then there’s no better place to start than Arentz. Buy it, read it and learn the “A+B” method.
I’m not going to explain the “A+B” method in detail here because a million other people have already done that. But in summary, this method uses two solutions of Ferric Oxalate which are mixed in different proportions to achieve contrast control. It is the easiest and most well documented method out there. It’s also the worst. The classic problem with this method is that even the slightest whiff of Solution B (also called Solution #2) will cause your highlights to go blotchy. If your photos have large dark areas and few highlights then this isn’t a problem. But if, like me, you have large areas of smooth high tones then you’ll soon want to move on to another method.
If you’re still not sure what to do after reading the book, then find a good workshop – that’ll save you a great deal of time and money.
I also strongly recommend buying some really good prints to use as reference prints. I have prints from Ray Bidegain, Jorge Gasteazoro and Ken Osthimer in my collection. These will show you what’s really possible and inspire you to do better. Just make sure you buy from the best printers because there’s a lot of rubbish out there too…
This method uses a Dichromate added to the developer to control contrast. Each sheet of paper is prepared in exactly the same way so you can prepare lots of paper without worrying about matching specific sheets to specific negatives. Although you have to store several different bottles of developer, once you understand how it works it’s really easy, convenient and infinitely flexible. Best of all your high tones will be perfect every time! Yay - let’s hear it for smooth skin tones!
I use Potassium Dichromate in a 10% stock solution – that’s 10g made up to 100cc with distilled water. 100cc will last a long time. Obviously if you’ve got other people around then this should be kept in a locked cabinet. And while you’re dealing with the powder use a decent respirator or fume cupboard – according to the Silverprint data sheet 0.5g ingested is a potentially lethal dose…
My Grade 0 developer is simply Potassium Oxalate with no Potassium Dichromate: 200g made up to 600cc of solution. This is about a 35% solution which is approaching the maximum possible. At first sight this is a bit of a strange volume to mix, but I buy Potassium Oxalate in 100g tubs so this saves me having to work with the powder and minimises the amount that may float up into the air.
The other grades are:
- Grade 1 = 600cc of Grade 0 + 0.6cc of Potassium Dichromate
- Grade 2 = 600cc of Grade 0 + 1.2cc of Potassium Dichromate
- Grade 3 = 600cc of Grade 0 + 3cc of Potassium Dichromate
- Grade 4 = 600cc of Grade 0 + 6cc of Potassium Dichromate
- Grade 5 = 600cc of Grade 0 + 12cc of Potassium Dichromate
- Grade 6 = 600cc of Grade 0 + 25cc of Potassium Dichromate
The difference between the grades is quite subtle. I try to develop for a Grade 2 or 3 print so I keep these available all the time. I also keep Grades 5 and 6 mixed because I quite often need to use these too – these I always handle with gloves on because they’re approaching the level of Potassium Dichromate which can cause problems if it’s absorbed through cuts or abrasions in your skin. Of course, even with the lower grades I try to keep skin contact to a minimum and wash my hands regularly… I’ve never had to mix anything higher than Grade 6 but I’ve got some older negatives which would probably need that as they were developed for silver printing.
I’m not going to talk about paper coating in depth because I’m assuming that you’ve read Arentz and learned how to coat paper already. If you haven’t then go back to Starting Out, and read it…
I use a brush to coat paper – normally a Richeson “Magic Brush” but also I use Winsor & Newton COTMAN brushes too. A 2” brush is perfect for 8x10 or 11x14 prints. Some people recommend wetting the brush first with distilled water – I found this to be more trouble than it’s worth so I start with a clean, dry brush. (As an aside I don’t use a rod for coating because I enjoy the feel of brushing – it’s more sensual - not because I think the brush is in any way better.)
Some people use an Oxalic Acid pre-treatment for their paper. Neither of the papers that I use (Arches Platine and Ruscombe Mill Buxton) require this. The effect is to slightly deepen the dark tones but I also find that it introduces all sorts of horrible problems if the paper doesn’t dry in a clean environment so I can’t be bothered with it. Neither do I waste time humidifying paper before coating. I store my paper in my darkroom which has a humidity of typically 37% to 47%. Higher humidity has the effect of cooling the tone which I don’t want.
Rather than mix each coating individually, I mix a batch of coating at the start of the session. My standard ratio is 2 parts Ferric Oxalate Solution #1 to 1 part Potassium Chloroplatinite and 1 part Sodium Chloropalladite (all available from B&S). I use 2cc of solution for each 8x10 print plus 1cc for the brush. So if I’m coating ten sheets of paper I mix up a total of 21cc of solution. The first sheet gets 3cc (the brush will soak some up), then the others get 2cc. As an aside, I filter all the chemicals immediately before mixing in order to minimise the amount of precipitate that gets onto the print surface. Some solution will be absorbed by the filter paper but that’s a small price to play for consistently clean prints.
After coating I let each sheet of paper stand for a few minutes (covered to minimise dust problems) before I dry it with a hair dryer for 2 minutes. Now that I’ve developed an efficient workflow I can coat 10-12 sheets at a time quite quickly and easily.
It’s important to clean the brush thoroughly after use (use EDTA) because otherwise it can act as a reservoir for debris that will find its way onto future prints.
Every negative I print starts with a 3 minute exposure developed in Grade 2 developer. This gives a standardised baseline that I can use to quickly assess the print and decide the best exposure and developer grade. I usually get to a finished print within two or three tries. For difficult negatives I use Michael A Smith’s “outflanking the print” approach which is pretty cool and saves a lot of guesswork – if you want to understand this approach then go on one of his Vision and Technique workshops (you won’t regret it).
Processing is very straightforward and can be done under low artificial light. I keep the developer in a glass jug heated to about 40°C on a little hotplate. My sequence is:
- 2 minutes in the developer with plenty of agitation – I don’t think the timing is critical so long as the developer gets onto and into the entire paper surface (take care with rough papers)
- Wash briefly in distilled water to minimise carry over of developer into the clearing bath
- First Citric Acid clearing bath for 5 to 10 minutes – I use one tablespoon of Citric Acid made up to 1000cc with distilled water
- Second Citric Acid clearing bath for 5 to 10 minutes
- Third Citric Acid clearing bath for 5 to 10 minutes – I only do this third bath for prints I’m going to sell – I’m lazy sometimes and it’s just not worth it for test prints
- Wash for 20 minutes or more (or a bit less for test prints)
- Hang to dry for a few hours before flattening in a press
After four prints I cycle the clearing baths as described by Arentz (which of course you’ve read by now so I don’t need to explain the details).
Finishing – Scanning, Spotting and Mounting
If I’m going to scan a print then I usually do this before spotting. But scanning can be a challenge…
One of the things about Pt/Pd prints that fascinates me is how the tone changes dramatically under different lighting. Under daylight the print will have a much colder tone (greys with a hint of warmth in the highlights), but under artificial light it will warm up dramatically. I have two halogen bulbs in my bathroom where I dry prints: one of them turns prints to a "tungsten warm tone" while the other turns the print almost yellow. Likewise, the light on my scanner turns the print a strong creamy yellow. The effect is most pronounced in the highlights and I suspect it's caused by the Palladium.
The upshot is that no scan can or will accurately match the tones of the print. I do most of my scanning in the evening under artificial light so I tend to colour correct to the warmer tone. That’s why most of the scans I’ve uploaded to APUG have a warm creamy tone. I could equally well colour correct to cold tone – it would be just as true to the print.
Spotting is relatively straightforward. I was nervous about spotting Pt/Pd prints for a long time. But actually it’s quite easy if you have a steady hand, and use a good brush, a bright light and a really good magnifier (I use an 8x folding Kaiser magnifier). Read Arentz to find out how to do it. I hate spotting dark defects (e.g. precipitate) – it’s better to avoid these in the first place instead of trying to spot them out.
Once spotted (and having allowed the paint to dry) I crop the print. Many people leave the brush marks and similar coating artefacts on the print. Personally I don’t like doing that – it feels like an affectation and it requires the mat to be used for cropping. If you like brush marks then keep them, but don’t let the convention make you feel they’re mandatory because they’re not.
When the print is spotted I crop it to exactly the dimensions I want and then dry mount it onto another surface. I used to dry mount onto conservation board in the same way many silver gelatine prints are mounted. I think this looks really good with Arches Platine. More recently I’ve been printing on Buxton paper which, I think, looks better cropped and mounted onto a larger sheet of Chateau Vellum (another handmade Ruscombe Mill paper which is sadly only available by special order now).
Finally I number and sign the print: it’s ready to go.
So that’s how I make my prints. I will revise this article periodically if I discover new and interesting things, but what would be really interesting would be commentary from an NA2 printer who can explain that process…
Last edited by Ian Leake; 01-09-2008 at 02:36 PM. Click to view previous post history.
It also helps to coat as you go if you are using the NA2 or FeOx #2 methods for contrast control, because you can't judge contrast grade of paper from the coating when it is dry.
Just done a Pt/Pd workshop with David Chow. Very interesting and educational. Worth it just to see some of his beautiful cyanotypes. Saw a couple Ian's Pt/Pd prints and they are fantastic. Subtle tones and detail does not begin to describe them...
Thank you so much for sharing all your information Ian, like so much else in life - the more you give out - the more you get back.
Your images are beautifully crafted and, as I can see, you have worked hard and enjoyed taking them. This shows through in your pictures: good shooting tomorrow!
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As it's two years since I wrote this article (and as I've just published my book on platinum printing), I thought it may be worthwhile to add a final comment here.
In the time since I wrote this article I have further developed and refined my printing process. While I'm still mostly happy with what I wrote, there are a number of techniques in it which I'd no longer recommend - mainly in the coating and processing steps. For example, I've found that citric acid is too harsh to use as a clearing agent for my favourite paper which is Buxton. I'd now recommend using an EDTA-based clearing process.
I'm always happy to chat about platinum printing, so if you'd like further information then feel free to drop me an email. Alternatively you can make my day and buy my book
Well, I guess I just made your day...
Originally Posted by Ian Leake